A REPUBLICAN AGENDA FOR THE FUTURE
Ron Nehring, Chairman of the California Republican Party
November 8, 2008
[Publisher's Note: After the defeats suffered by the Republican Party in the General Election, we have reached out to some California leaders to ask them to reflect on this question, "What must the GOP do to once again be the majority party?" We are pleased to bring you this column from Ron Nehring. Nehring is Chairman of the California Republican Party - Flash]
If you are new to the FlashReport, please check out the main site and the acclaimed FlashReport Weblog on California politics.
For us to make the best decisions going forward, it’s important for us to have a good understanding of what occurred in this election.
When evaluating the outcome of sports games, or elections, there’s a tendency to assume that everything the winning team did was right, and everything the losing team did was wrong.
The reality, of course, is that elections are not 100-0 events, they’re won and lost on the margin, and on the margin we compete in three dimensions: operations, messaging and externalities.
Operationally, here in California, the CRP’s Victory campaign worked extremely well. Significant improvements were made based on what we learned from 2006: closer coordination with local candidates, better synergy with county parties, and adaptations based on circumstances on the ground. Even the Los Angeles Times recognized that Republicans were successful in defeating Democrat plans to seize a two-thirds majority in the legislature with their headline: “Democrats Fall Short of Their Goal of a Supermajority.”
Our focus of resources directly contributed to our success in thwarting Democrat plans for a supermajority, and their parallel plans to pick up Republican Congressional seats. Over 80% of our voter contacts were directed into contested legislative and Congressional districts, with the target universes adjusted sometimes daily. The result? Tony Quinn, co-author of the California Target Book, put it this way, “You had this enormous Obama tide, and the Democrats don't have much to show for it.”
In terms of messaging, candidates had the flexibility to develop messaging that worked best for their district. Danny Gilmore, who took a Democrat seat in the Central Valley, campaigned on very different issues than, Tony Strickland, on the coast. A strength of our system is that party leaders do not dictate to candidates what messages they must convey – they have the flexibility to use what works best in their region.
Externalities, or events that are beyond the control of either candidate, are the third dimension in which we compete, and this is where our team was overwhelmed nationally. John McCain and Sarah Palin received an 11% boost coming out of our convention in Minneapolis, moving from down 7% to up 4% in the Gallup polls. Then the Wall Street crisis hit. On the day Lehman Brothers went under, John McCain and Barack Obama were tied. Yet as a result of the crisis and the bailout, Obama moved into a 5% lead from which our team never recovered.
The reason for this is clear: Americans hold the party in control of the executive branch, not the legislative branch, responsible for what happens in the economy. This is why Barack Obama could campaign on a message of “change” without it applying to Nancy Pelosi’s and Harry Reid’s Congress, which still has approval ratings at 9%. Republicans held the White House when the bottom dropped out of the world financial system, and our team was held responsible.
We also had three other powerful externalities running in favor of the other team: the overall state of the economy, the spike in energy prices, and history: rarely does any party hold the White House for three consecutive terms – Eisenhower led to Kennedy, Johnson led to Nixon, Nixon/Ford led to Carter, and Clinton led to Bush 43.
Those externalities overwhelmed this election nationally. Yet in California, Republicans defeated Democrat plans to pick up Congressional seats or win a supermajority in the legislature.
Moving forward, our first task is to reject the advice of the liberals on cable TV programs and Democrats who will lecture us that in order to be successful, we have to roll over and be just like them. Candidly, I don’t think those liberal pundits have our best interest in mind, so we’ll give a polite “no, thank you” to that idea. I recall watching a Democrat on television in 1993 talk about how House Republicans needed to go along with Bill Clinton’s agenda or else risk “irrelevance.” Thankfully, they rejected that advice, and less than two years later, took control of Congress campaigning on a positive, forward-looking “Contract With America” that provided a Republican alternative to where the Clintons were taking the country.
It’s equally important for Republicans to communicate our ideas in ways that help people clearly understand the benefits of our ideas. Voters need a clear idea of what Republicans stand for, and how those ideas benefits them and their family. It’s not enough that lower taxes are “right,” we must convey how lower taxes translate into a better quality of life. The same applies to limiting government regulation, or supporting policies that strengthen families, and other core principles. Being right, in the sense of having the best ideas, is not enough to win. How we connect those ideas to improving the lives of those we seek to represent is key. Reagan understood this, which is why he was so known as “the great communicator.”
To become a majority, our party must also “think majority.” That means welcoming new people who show up at our door, and making real efforts to go into those communities that don’t yet know the benefits of Republican ideas. Local government offices provide excellent opportunities to elect Republicans from those communities who in turn serve as examples of putting Republican ideas into action and promoting Republicans of all backgrounds. Successful candidates build coalitions of people who come to politics for differing reasons, yet find a party or a candidate in common.
Building party infrastructure over multiple elections is vital to strengthening the party operationally. Rather than allowing everything a candidate campaign builds to disappear into the ether the day the voting is completed, rolling those lists, volunteers and other assets into the party to become the foundation of the next campaign is essential to building long term strength.
In the coming weeks we’ll hear all about how Republicans need to roll over for Barack Obama’s tax increases, defense cuts, liberal social agenda, and judicial appointments. Yet that’s not our charge. Our responsibility is to provide better ideas for building a stronger America – a positive, alternative vision that puts faith in people, not government. One that favors growth, not redistribution. And one that advances, rather than compromises, the cause of individual liberty and freedom upon which our nation, and our party, was founded.
You can reach Ron Nehring via his website here.